Memorial Tribute for Rev. Carlton Rutherford

posted in: MCC News | 0

A Brother, Counselor, Advocate, Colleague, Pastor, Friend and Faithful Disciple

Rev. Carlton Dale Mutts Rutherford, LCSW, M.Div
November 10, 1951 – July 15, 2017


The Reverend Carlton Dale Mutts Rutherford was born in Ahoskie, North Carolina and reared in Scotland Neck, a small town in northeastern North Carolina.  Scotland Neck was the home of the maternal side of his family, who traced their roots back to two slaves, Sylvia “Sylvester” and Ephraim Mutts, who still have marked graves in the area.  He received his elementary education at Brawley High School, the same local segregated school his mother and her siblings attended. In 1971, he gave his life to Christ and joined Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, his mother’s church which was located on the same block on which they lived.  He also attended Palmer Memorial Institute, a black prep school in Sedalia, North Carolina.  Upon his graduation in 1970, he attended Hampton Institute (Hampton, Virginia) where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology in 1974.  Rev. Rutherford went on to further his formal education by receiving a Master of Social Work degree from East Carolina University in 1990 and a Master of Divinity degree from The Divinity School at Duke University School in 2005.  While at The Divinity School, in addition to being involved in several student organizations, he was part of an immersion experience to Johannesburg, South Africa in 2004.  His ministry work there was focused on those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and the homeless.  He would often recall on how that experience transformed his life, intensifying his interest in global issues.  This experience would also fuel his passion for ministry in the area of pastoral care.

Rev. Rutherford’s career was planted and rooted in the field of social work.  He was a social worker at Central State Hospital (Petersburg, Virginia), a foster care social worker with the Richmond (Virginia) City Department of Social Services and Durham County Department of Social Services; an outpatient therapist at Triumph, LCC (Durham, North Carolina) and as a clinical social worker at the George Phillip’s Adult Sickle Cell Center, Duke University Medical Center (Durham, North Carolina).  His areas of interests in social work primarily focused on children and families, HIV/AIDS, LGBTQQI, people of color and homelessness.  He was a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), a certified social worker by the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW).  He was also a third generation licensed funeral director by the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service.

Following his relocation to the Triangle area, Rev. Rutherford was an active citizen in the community.  Organizations in which he was involved included the Durham AIDS Network, North Carolina AIDS Service Coalition, Lesbian and Gay Health Project, OUTRIGHT (LGBT Youth), UMOJA: A Community of Lesbians and Gays of African Descent and Their Friends, Association of Black Social Workers and the Social Work Advisory Board at North Carolina Central University.  He also served as chair for the Community Advisory Board (CAB) for the Duke AIDS Research and Treatment (DART) Center with the Duke University Medical Center (Durham, North Carolina).

Rev. Rutherford discovered MCC in the early 90’s and joined St. John’s MCC in 1992 when the church was renting space from Community UCC in Raleigh.  In 1997, he would leave St. John’s and join Rev. Wanda Floyd to assist in birthing a new church community in Durham, Imani MCC.  While at Imani, he served on the Advisory Board and the Pastoral Care Team.  Eventually responding to his call to professional ministry, Rev. Rutherford returned to St. John’s as a Clergy Candidate in 2006, rejoining as a member that same year.  In 2007, he was ordained to professional ministry in MCC and joined the Staff of St. John’s as Pastor for Pastoral Care, a position he faithfully served in until he suffered a stroke in 2016.

Rev. Rutherford credited St. John’s MCC for being the first church allowing him to be open to the possibilities of God’s inclusive love.  His faith in Jesus Christ enabled him to be a long term survivor of HIV/AIDS after being diagnosed in 1986.  He also survived a battle with cancer and was cancer free since January 2000.  He often shared his gratitude for the grace, mercy and favor the Spirit of God showered upon him each and every day.

A Celebration of Life for Rev. Rutherford was held Sunday, July 23, 2017 at St. John’s MCC in Raleigh, NC.

Edited by:
Rev. Brendan Boone, Former Pastor
St. John’s MCC, Raleigh, North Carolina

Rev. Wanda Floyd, Interim Pastor
MCC Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina

Founding Pastor, Imani MCC, Durham, North Carolina



Remembering Rev. Carlton Rutherford

Rev. Elder Jim Mitulski, Interim Senior Minister
Congregational Church United Church of Christ
Needham, Massachusetts

Former Senior Pastor, MCC San Francisco
San Francisco, California


Dear Friends,

This brief testimony comes to you from someone who had the opportunity to work with Rev. Carlton over the years both inside and outside of MCC on projects relating specifically to the spiritual, physical, and mental health and wellbeing of men, gay men, black men, men who have sex with men, men who have HIV/AIDS, men who are HIV positive or negative, anyone who is HIV positive or negative whether male or female or on a gender spectrum, anyone who is sexually active. I am naming these particular categories for a couple of reasons.

If you knew Carlton, you know he cared about all people. But he was passionately involved with the care of people in his professional work and his volunteer work with those who were marginalized by our health care system and also in society, and perhaps especially by religion and affected by certain diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. Sometimes this stigma existed even in the gay community, even in what became known as the “gay” churches. And so he worked to end this stigma (and part of this work involves the naming of the groups).

Carlton was a human bridge between religion and public health, two worlds that often co-existed but didn’t talk to each other. He brought the reality of his Christian, gay, African-American HIV self into every environment in which he worked or contributed . . . in his thoughtful, persistent analytical super-smart docile social worker way. It could be a nearly all white gay men’s HIV support group at a MCC conference, or a secular, mostly clinical gathering at a Gay Men’s Health Summit of guys who may not be fully appreciative of the role that spirituality plays in addressing the full spectrum of needs of men of all colors living with HIV or hepatitis C.

Carlton had an always current social analysis in regard to race, gender, economics, access to health care, and I always looked forward to connecting with him at either a health conference or a church conference, to talk about politics or just to gossip (as gay men do). And I mean this: he could be sharp, but he wasn’t malevolent; he had strong opinions, but he really loved people; and he was ultimately an optimist about everything, including his own health challenges. The world of MCC and the world of public health and the world of men who love men and the world in general will miss him. So will I.


Remembering Rev. Carlton Rutherford

Dr. David Williams
MCC Program Officer, Health & Wellness & HIV/AIDS
Interim Pastor, MCC Christ the Liberator
Hamilton, New Jersey


Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Matthew 5:14-16 states, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

The Rev. Carlton Rutherford was that light. From a proud and humble beginning, Carlton set out to do what was right, to uplift his family, church, and community and show us the true meaning of unselfish service coupled with unconditional love. He was uniquely placed at the intersection of the secular public health and religious worlds. He often acted as a bridge and a conduit between both. His work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with various agencies, and his ministerial work as the Minister of Pastoral Care at St. John’s MCC, bears a lasting testament.

Carlton’s love for God, God’s people, and MCC was evident to all he met. As a long term survivor of HIV/AIDS and cancer, he was an effective and eloquent advocate for those infected/affected by HIV/AIDS. His tireless efforts to educate, support people infected and affected–particularly black gay men–and fight the stigmatization associated with HIV/AIDS will be truly missed.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was prophetic when he said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”  He was describing Carlton.

A light has gone out, but the flame has been passed to another generation, and we will endeavor to carry on the legacy of The Rev. Carlton Rutherford.

Please Leave a Memory or Prayer here

Send pictures of Rev. Carlton to [email protected] for a photo collage